It has been an incredible year. Before it comes to an end, I wanted to send our best wishes and biggest thanks out to all of you.
Your support and feedback have made all of what we’ve achieved possible. We look forward to seeing you in the new year, and for now, please enjoy your holidays very much.
Some of you (we can see who you are!) are still logging in and working on strengthening your synapses. (This is a somewhat cool way of saying strengthening your memories). If you are one of us peeking onto Chessable, I wanted to offer you a brief year in review:
In 10 months, we’ve reached over 13,000 registrations.
We’ve gone from 0 to 2,200,000 chess positions studied.
We’ve increased the books in our store from a single International Master (who we all love); to several masters. Our authors now include some of the word’s best Grandmasters. We now cover many of the most popular chess openings.
We’ve added many many features that you can opt-in or out from. In this manner, you can personalise Chessable to suit your individual learning needs.
We have some incredibly exciting developments in the works for the new year that we know you will love. As a quick hint or sneak preview, I will just say that I personally need to break the 2,000 barrier! I need to work beyond the opening to do so. This requires some new tools and last I checked; no one else has yet built what is necessary. That’s where we come in!
Lastly, some of you may be wondering about our crowdfunding. If you had supported us on our campaign, I have already sent you a personal note via e-mail. However, if you weren’t able to, I just want to let you know that we did not reach our funding target, mainly because despite trying, we could not get our US members on board. We did, however, make the most out of the process. Our campaign has helped us strengthen our brand and has influenced our achievement of significant milestones. We also have this super cool video to show for it: https://goo.gl/wJqv3S. I plan to write more about the crowdfunding next year.
Meanwhile, while the lack of funding slows things down a bit (e.g.,. iOS app), we are nonetheless confident of successfully achieving our next milestones. After all, learning doesn’t have to be hard 🙂
When I started studying chess seriously, I started with the games of the World Champion at the time, Garry Kasparov. I read several books about his championship matches and the openings he played (and like a typical fan played them myself). Kasparov’s approach was to find the sharpest, most critical lines in opening theory and find new ideas and weapons – unleashing them brutally on his opponents. This in contrast to the opening approach of our current young champion, Magnus Carlsen.
And somehow Magnus Carlsen seems to care little about the opening! In fact sometimes it feels like he just shows up and plays whatever he wants.
Mr. Shahade goes on to survey a few of Carlsen’s opening choices during that period, which typically were noncritical lines that you might find amateurs playing at their local weekend tournament. That article was from 2013, so let’s see what the champ has been up to since then.
Only Carlsen knows specifically why he chose certain opening weapons for certain encounters. However, I see a few advantages to his approach. First, he will most likely be more prepared in the positions and structures he ends up with. Also, as his opponent might often deviate early to either avoid Magnus’ preparation – or because he hasn’t studied the opening, the World Champion will often get a chance to outplay his opponent with his superior skill.
He may also choose specific variations because he feels they will be less comfortable for his opponent. This is reminiscent of the first World Champion, Emanuel Lasker, who often played opening not only for their objective worth, but for their psychological effect on his opponents.
Let’s take a look at some of his more interesting choices over the last couple years.
With the Black pieces, Carlsen tends to play very solid openings as befits his positional style. So he often plays 1…e5 against 1.e4 often aiming for several variations of the Ruy Lopez, including the solid Berlin Defense as well as several of the Closed Variations of the Ruy. Against 1.d4, he is very comfortable in dynamic positional openings such as the Nimzo-Indian and the Queen’s Indian.
However, at times he plays “ordinary” openings that probably both confuse his opponents as well as shows them how versatile he can be.
Here’s an encounter where he outplays Fabiano Caruana during the 2014 Chess Olympiad. He uses what’s known as the Mieses-Kotroc variation of the Scandinavian, featuring an early …Bg4. Although it has been played at GM level, this is the only game with this variation at the elite level. Carlsen shows his positional prowess and endgame mastery.
Sicilian Defense? No Problem
In conversations with amateur players, I occasionally encounter the theory that Carlsen – known as a predominantly positional and defensive player – is not skilled in sharp encounters. However, looking at a few games with White against the combative Sicilian Defense shows us that he can play sharp positions as well as anyone.
Against the Sicilian, he often chooses the slightly offbeat Canal Attack – which often transposes into the related Rossolimo Variation (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5). This opening is also part of Able’s Repertoire: White with 1.e4 written by Chessable co-founder David Kramaley. In this next game, he plays the Canal Attack in a critical game that helped him win the 2015 London Chess Classic. His opponent is another world class GM, Alexander Grischuk.
By the way, he also plays the Open Sicilian very well. In the following game, Carlsen plays a fine positional game, where he gains several positional advantages, then simplifies into a winning endgame. In this case, his opponent is another top ten player, Wesley So.
Queen’s Pawn Game Adventures
Magnus Carlsen usually plays the standard 2.c4 after playing 1.d4 against both 1…d5 and 1…Nf6. However, he’s also shown some creativity in playing some openings seldom seen at the elite levels of chess – although club players will be quite familiar with them.
He is not afraid to play openings such as the London, the Trompowsky, and most recently, the Colle — although he lost that game in his World Championship match with Sergey Karjakin.
In the following game, Magnus plays the Accelerated London (1.d4 followed by 2.Bf4) which transposes into a seemingly harmless Exchange Caro-Kann. However, these are the types of positions that the champion relishes, gaining small positional edges and then transforming the position into a winning endgame.
The Daring Dutch
Another slightly uncommon weapon that Carlsen has trotted out in high level encounters is the Dutch. Unlike fellow elite GM Hikaru Nakamura, who prefers the Leningrad Dutch after 1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6, Carlsen has played the Stonewall variation almost exclusively.
Here is another high level encounter against Poland’s top rated GM, Radoslaw Wojtasczek. White doesn’t make any big mistakes, but Carlsen slowly grinds him down and shows great accuracy and timing in a final assault.
When Magnus plays 1.e4, he often heads toward the Ruy Lopez. However, he has played the Italian Game (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4) several times recently. This opening often leads to a slow maneuvering game, which would appear to suit our young World Champion quite well.
Although it has a reputation for drawish positions, in the hands of a positional master such as Carlsen, the Italian becomes a weapon to be feared.
In the game presented below, Carlsen faces off against former World Champion Vishy Anand. Observe how White’s doubled isolated e-pawns help restrain Black’s knight while White’s own knight’s mobility wins the game.
For our final game, I’d like to show you a game that demonstrates Carlsen’s versatility and skill. Although Carlsen plays a variety of openings with both White and Black, one common thread is his positional prowess and endgame virtuosity. It is no different even when he uses offbeat openings.
I hope you will enjoy Carlsen’s final game in his title defense against Sergey Karjakin. In this game, Carlsen plays a move he has never played in competition, 5.f3 (The Prins Variation). This game was the final one of the rapid tiebreaks, and Carlsen was leading by a point, so Black needed a victory to continue on in the match. Although White’s play is solid and sensible, he produces a beautiful combination to finish the game.
I hope you enjoyed a look at some of Magnus Carlsen’s more offbeat opening choices. As I did researched his openings and played through many of his games, I made a few observations.
First, even though he plays what many do not consider “serious” openings, he made them work for him. Because of his tremendous skill, he found resources in these openings that allowed him to prevail. So don’t be afraid to play these openings even though some title player thinks they’re “garbage.”
Second, even though he chose different types of openings, his style manifested itself through the middlegame and endgame. Magnus played sharp openings like the Sicilian in a positional fashion and created favorable endgames. So even if you prefer a specific style of play – e.g. tactical vs. positional – don’t let this restrict the types of openings you play because they aren’t considered congruent with your “style.” There are positional lines in sharp openings and there are tactical lines in solid openings. It takes work (and perhaps a good book) to find them, but they are out there.
Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment with different openings. Although we may not have the time to study chess like a professional like Carlsen, we can still play different openings for enjoyment. Our study of different openings will benefit us, because ultimately openings lead to middlegames and endgames, each with various strategic lessons that will carry over whether we stick with the same opening or not. I believe Magnus Carlsen’s skill at the various openings are both a result of his inherent skill and training. However, I also believe that his skill and knowledge of chess has grown through playing and experimenting with different openings and structures.
Of course, it is important to learn our openings thoroughly as well as develop other aspects of our game, such as tactics, planning, and endgames, so don’t jump around too much when you’re first learning. Stick with your openings for a little while, doing your repetitions with Chessable daily, and you’ll soon find yourself in a different class of chess altogether.
You may not find yourself playing in the World Championship with Magnus Carlsen…but you never know!
As part of Chessable’s Crowdcube crowdfunding campaign, this week we put on a couple of events. The first one saw co-founder, IM John Bartholomew play against 25 opponents in a timed simultaneous exhibition. John put on a fine performance in his first ever simul outside the US and finished with a score of 17.5 to 7.5. The field of players was lucky to score some points, as John struggled to keep up on the clock against so many opponents, and I as part of them, will have to admit, we all played the clock!
The next day we organised an event so people could meet us and play some chess. We also talked about chess as an industry, Chessable as a business and a potential investment opportunity. It was awesome to meet everyone who came along and get such high quality feedback; of course, it was also a great and fun evening and someone even managed to beat John!
A big thanks to everyone who came to both events, and a special thanks to the Battersea Chess Club for organising such a wonderful simul. If you would like to find more information about our crowdfunding campaign, please click here.
I just wanted to add a note announcing that I have been invited to speak at the 4th London Chess Conference, covering the didactics of chess.
I will be running a workshop about “Cognitive insights into chess improvement”, talking about my unique and insightful Master’s dissertation that was awarded Distinction by Bristol University.
I’ll also be presenting Chessable as an online learning system, and lastly participating as part of a panel taking a critical look at some of the latest research published about chess and academic achievement.